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NFL ProEra VR - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Full games are playable!
  • Viewing game from the sideline when not on the field
  • Can sim CPU possessions
  • Customizable quarter length and clock options
  • Mini-games are actually good practice!
  • Playable female characters!
  • Use of NFL-licensed music
  • No micro-transactions!
  • Playing as a QB limits possibility of VR motion sickness

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Can only play as quarterback
  • Gets easy before finishing a single season
  • QB runs may be OP
  • Pass-heavy play selection
  • Gets some rules wrong
  • A.I. and animation bugs
  • No structured weekly preparation, or gameplanning, or halftime adjustments
  • Can't customize menu soundtrack

Overall Impression : C+
Surprisingly robust and engaging proof of concept

NFL ProEra VR - cover

Developer:
StatusPro inc.

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
Oculus Quest (via Meta digital download),
PlayStation VR | VR2 < (via PSN digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $30 USD

Original release date:
22 February 2023

Genre:
sports, gridiron football, VR

Player(s):
single player campaign, online multiplayer mini-games

Play time:
8-20 hours

ESRB Rating: E (for Everyone) for:
online player interactions

Official site:
www.status.pro/

When I first saw that there was an NFL-licensed VR game, I assumed it was developed by EA and associated with Madden. After all, EA owns the exclusive rights to NFL-licensed "simulation" football games. I downloaded the playable demo expecting that first-person VR football would be a nauseating disaster of a game. But much to my surprise, the demo was not bad. And doubly-surprising, it isn't developed by EA either. It's developed by StatusPro, inc., which is a company that has made VR training tools for actual athletes, and which is now testing out the waters of VR sports video gaming.

So I guess this is a second loophole to EA's NFL "exclusivity". Not only can other companies make "non-simulation" NFL games, but apparently, VR games are not covered by EA's exclusivity, regardless of whether the VR game could be considered "simulation" or not. NFL ProEra definitely falls into the camp of "simulation" as far as I'm concerned. I mean, what could be more "simulation" than an immersive VR game? Or is it "not simulation" because it lacks a multi-season Franchise mode?

Anyway, the demo was pretty hard. I'm used to reading defenses from a bird's-eye view as both a football spectator and video gamer, so I had a lot of trouble reading the defense from ground-level. I also struggled a bit with aiming my throws. I figured that if the offenses and defenses are using actual football concepts in their A.I., then I should be able to learn to read the defense with enough practice, and the control seemed responsive enough that I hoped I could eventually get used to the throwing motion. So I went ahead and dropped $30 for the full game, curious to see how robust and complete of an NFL experience it would provide.

I was expecting VR football to be a nauseating disaster, but it's surprisingly fun and engaging.

Then I was pleasantly surprised for the second time. I fully expected that the game would just be a collection of short scenarios and mini-games. You know, some "throw the ball through swinging tires" kind of things to practice or warm-up, followed by a campaign of short scenarios in which I'd have to lead two-minute drills to win some games. But that isn't the case. After the tutorial, I jumped into an exhibition game to wet my feet, and there was a whole football game there! ProEra even comes packaged with options for quarter length and game clock run-offs (e.g. an "accelerated clock", in Madden parlance). So I could even play a full-length, 15-minute quarter match if I wanted to. And yes, there's training camp mini-games and practice modes too! A couple of those mini-games will even be familiar to long-time Madden veterans.

So yeah, NFL ProEra actually does offer a reasonably complete and robust virtual NFL quarterback experience. But right there, in that sentence, is the first big caveat. You can only play as a quarterback. So if you were hoping to get to live out a VR career as a running back, receiver, or linebacker, you're out of luck -- let alone if you're one of the weirdos who dreams of being a punter, place-kicker, or longsnapper.

Some of the mini-camp drills will be very familiar to older Madden veterans.

Welcome to the virtual quarterback club

Gameplay is pretty much what you'd expect from a VR quarterback game. The coach radios in the play to you in the huddle. A diagram of the play is viewable on your wrist within the huddle and at the line of scrimmage prior to snapping the ball. From the line of scrimmage, you can look around at the defense and at your players, as well as checking the in-stadium scoreboard for the current down, distance, and clock. You can even call a timeout or audible to a different play. There's even a "hurry-up" button after the play, in case you need to go no-huddle for a last-minute comeback drive. However, this comes with some limitations and caveats. For one, there is no option to hurry to the line and spike the ball. I guess you could just spike the ball yourself. More importantly though, is that audibles are limited to plays from the same formation, and I couldn't find individual receiver hot routes, or the ability to adjust into a "max protect" blocking scheme if I sense a blitz coming.

The user can call an audible at the line of scrimmage, but no hot routes or blocking adjustments.

The player snaps the ball by holding one or both triggers on the VR controller, then stand in the pocket and scan the defense. When you decide who to throw to, you make a throwing motion with your throwing hand and release the trigger button to let go of the ball. Then you just watch and hope that your receiver catches it, and that it isn't tipped or intercepted by the defense. And when I first started playing, I had to do a lot of hoping.

There's a lot of practice that will go into training your throwing motion to get accurate throws. I think I eventually figured out that a big part of my problem is that my throwing wrist was rotated outwards a little bit (more like I was throwing a baseball), so my throws were often sailing off to the side. I had to practice for a while to get my wrist positioning correct. The mini-camp drills were very effective for practicing and correcting this problem with my body mechanics.

I also had some trouble with "looking at" my target receiver. As I understand it, the user needs to be looking at the receiver you want to throw to in order for the pass to be accurate. Otherwise, you'll just drill the ball into the ground, or sail it into the 2nd row of the stands. A good way to (retroactively) know if you were looking at the right receiver is when reviewing the plays from the sideline. If the play outcome says "no target", it means you weren't looking in the right place, and the game couldn't tell who you were trying to throw to.

There is a high learning curve for throwing accurate passes.

According to Reddit, this may be an issue with the PSVR2's eye tracking. Disabling the eye-tracking supposedly fixes it. It worked for me, and my play improved considerably. Towards the end of the season, I tried turning the eye tracking back OFF in the headset options to see if it made a difference. For a few drives, I couldn't complete a single pass, but then in the second half of the game, I was accurate again, even though eye tracking was still OFF. So it might be an intermittent bug. In my experience, if looking at a receiver causes a colored spotlight to highlight him (pre-snap or post-snap), then eye-tracking is working correctly; otherwise, passes will not be accurate.

Speaking of the green, orange, and red highlights over receivers: I'm not sure what the different colors are supposed to mean. Is the red receiver the primary receiver? Or an alert? What do the orange highlights mean? If red is the primary, then is orange an alert or checkdown? Or does the color indicate the difficulty of the coverage against that receiver? It would be nice if the game explained some of this stuff. I can't find any kind of in-game manual or anything explaining any of the mechanics

In any case, my first couple practice games were not pretty to behold. In my first match, I went 3 of 22 for 5 yards, an interception, 2 sacks, and a dreadful quarterback rating of 22. My second match went a little bit better. I hit 6 of 22 for 58 yards, 2 sacks, and almost doubled my QBR to 42. I also tacked on well over 50 rushing yards.

And yes, you can and will be sacked. The game seems to give a generous amount of time in the pocket, especially on the standard difficulty, but you'll still have to try to get the ball off by your 2nd or 3rd read, or else you'll have a rabid defensive end blindsiding you. The game is generous enough to not animate the player character falling to the ground, as this could be very disorienting and potentially nauseating in VR. Instead, if you are sacked (or tackled), the screen will simply turn red and the play will end. I don't think there's any amount of force feedback in the world that could simulate the experience of being blindsided by Myles Garrett or a Bosa brother.

Get the ball out quick, before the pass rush gets to you!

Everyone is Mahomes

You can run the ball too! In fact, QB runs seem like they may be a bit overpowered. When creating your character, there are no options to set your speed. You can only set your height and general body build (heavy, average, or thin), and also your gender. So the player is basically able to scramble and run like Pat Mahomes, and the defense is slow to react to a QB run and ill-prepared to defend against the user running the ball yourself (even in designed QB runs). The lack of robust QB running mechanics kind of makes the choice of Lamar Jackson as the cover athlete feel perplexing. They didn't chose a drop-back passer like Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, or Justin Herbert to grace the cover. They chose a QB who is as much a running back as he is a quarterback.

QB runs are overpowered.

So you can scramble for big gains fairly easily, and there are designed QB draws, and even some read option plays that are practically guaranteed first downs. It's ironic because these plays aren't even executed correctly to begin with. The offensive line won't be blocking read options correctly. They won't leave the outside rusher un-blocked for the QB to read, so it's always viable to just takeoff and hit the edge before that end rusher breaks his block. And even if you do hand off the ball, the running back will cut back towards the read defensive end anyway, which defeats the purpose of handing it off to begin with.

The coach will occasionally call handoffs to the running backs as well, in which case, the user's sole responsibility is to receive the snap and put the ball in the glowing green box over the running back's belly for the handoff. I haven't seen any pitch runs, pitch options, or triple options, so it seems like it's all just inside zone runs and the occasional counter run with a pulling guard (except the linemen never actually pull, even though pulling is in the play diagrams). Just be careful that your arm isn't moving forward when you release the handoff, because the game will treat that like a forward pass that is spiked into the ground, and you'll lose a down. Better than a fumble, I guess...

The coach will occasionally call simple handoffs.

Of course, since the whole game is designed around the user playing as a quarterback, the play-calling is extremely pass heavy. This is true regardless of which team you play with, and will also be true of the CPU opponent as well. In fact, I'm not even sure if the different teams even have different play-calling schemes. So even run-heavy teams like the Bears and Giants will still be throwing the ball 70 or 80% of the time (or more!). It would be nice to have a slider in the gameplay options to set the pass vs run ratio. This, combined with the clock options, could have allowed longer-length games to feel a bit more balanced and realistic in terms of play-calling and overall pacing.

You won't be playing defense either. So when your offense isn't on the field, you'll get to stand on the sideline and spectate. The game gives you a little tablet that allows you to view each play from the previous drive. It'll show what offensive play was called and what play the defense ran, as well as a description of the outcome of the play. You can use this to hopefully learn from your mistakes, identify when you made the wrong reads, and try to get better next time.

While you're on the sideline, you can also watch your defense play for the entire game if you like, or you can skip the opponent's drive and go straight to your next possession. This can help speed up matches with longer quarter lengths, and even make full-length, 15-minute quarter matches playable in well under an hour.

When not on the field, you can review the previous drive's plays, or skip ahead to your next possession.

Pro Era is also pretty realistic with the net outcome of plays, especially compared to the likes of Madden. Most passing plays are completed 4, 5, or 6 yards from the line of scrimmage, and tackled after short gains. Unlike Madden, every completion will not be 15 or 20 yards down the field (or deeper). Drives therefore last longer and run more clock. A 10-play scoring drive running 6 or more minutes off the game clock is not uncommon in Pro Era, nor is it uncommon to see a drive stall around mid-field and force a punt on 4th and medium. And Pro Era manages to accomplish this without needing to rely on an excess of sacks or interceptions to keep passing offenses in check. All it takes is the occasional dropped or deflected pass to kill a drive. Madden could actually learn a lot from Pro Era about how passing offenses in football video games should be balanced and paced!

Illegal formation

While A.I. and animation are passable, there are some recurring bugs in both departments. Players will completely phase through each other. I see this happen almost every time I handoff to the running back. The running back will usually cut back right into the defensive pursuit, instead of hitting the intended hole or bee-lining to the outside. And when he does cut back inside, he will simply ghost right through an offensive or defensive lineman instead of being stopped behind the line of scrimmage, only to get tackled by a linebacker or safety for a 2-yard gain anyway.

Players will occasionally ghost through each other or line up in the wrong positions.

I also see other players line up in the wrong positions. This seems to happen most often if I'm moving around. I think they maybe bump into my player avatar, and it messes with their pathfinding script. I think it also happens if there were supposed to be substitutions between plays. It seems that sometimes, the players start an animation to run to the sideline, but then the game cuts to the huddle, and the new players aren't spawned into the correct positions.

Defensive backs also have a frustrating habit of trying to jump routes and totally whiffing on the interception attempt. This leads to an excess of un-contested receptions in the intermediate and deep ranges, and allows those receivers to cut upfield for extra yards. DBs jumping a route, whiffing, and giving up a big play should happen every now and then, but not multiple times every single possession! I would much rather see defensive backs playing the receivers more frequently, so that even if they whiff at going for the ball, they are still in position to tackle the receiver and eliminate the potential for yards after catch.

I also had the game lock up for a few plays, and I was unable to snap the ball. I'm not sure if this happened as a result of an audible, but it lead to multiple delays of game that turned a 3rd and 1 into a 3rd and 11.

DBs are too aggressive at jumping routes, and giving up big plays when they whiff.

Pro Era also gets some NFL rules wrong. For example, overtime follows the proper hybrid sudden-death model, with a coin toss to determine possession. However, the teams were not given any additional timeouts. It's not quite as big of a deal, since the game doesn't end if the first overtime period expired, even if it's an exhibition or regular season game. There must be a winner! And instead of starting a new overtime period with a new kickoff, play just resumes where it was, as if it were the end of the 1st or 3rd quarters.

The game also doesn't seem to be tracking any of my exhibition stats, despite the fact that the player stats widget clearly says that it is supposed to include exhibition stats.

A successful rookie season!

Even though ProEra doesn't implement all the rules of football correctly, or get every detail right (not even close!), it does still manage to get some small details correct, which Madden has never handled correctly. For one thing, players will actually fall on fumbled footballs instead of always scooping the ball in stride. Teams will also use the punter as the holder for field goals and extra points.

Overall, NFL ProEra is a limited, but pretty solid VR football experience. If the game is going to become an annually-released title, then these limitations mean that there is plenty of opportunity for Status Pro to improve and expand the game in future years. The addition of hot routes, pitch running plays, RPOs, a "pass/run ratio" gameplay slider, and pre-game gameplanning and practice, would be a great place to start. Or maybe adding speech-recognition support, so that calling plays in the huddle, snapping the ball, or calling audibles can be done with voice commands? A more realistic career with injuries, trades, contract negotiations, and so forth could also be a compelling addition. And of course, better A.I. that makes the game more challenging in the long run would be nice. As it stands, by the time I had finished a full season, I was putting up 40 points every single game, on the hard difficulty, without even having to rely on the crutch of cheesing QB draw plays.

I could see this VR mode be easily adapted to
fit with Madden's Face Of The Franchise Mode.

I would also like to see more advanced statistics tracking. I'd like to see breakdowns of where on the field I like to throw to, which positions or players I target the most, how open a receiver is when I throw to him, and so forth, and maybe also how my play compares against NFL quarterbacks and other users of this game. Am I as overly-dependent on tight ends and slot receivers running drag and quick in routes as I think I am?

I would also like to see stats for other players on my team. How many yards and TDs has my favorite receiver racked up over the course of the season? Is my running back breaking 100 yards in a game?

I also wouldn't be surprised if we eventually see additional playable positions be added to the game over time. That is, if they aren't too nauseating. Playing as a QB has the advantage of spending most of your time standing in the pocket, as opposed to moving around a lot. Other positions may not be viable if the amount of motion makes most gamers physically sick. And since we don't have sensors on our ankles, I doubt that we'll see a mode that allows the user to play as a kicker.

This is something that EA could definitely look at and learn from. I wouldn't expect Madden to be fully playable in VR, for the same reasons that I'm not sure if adding other playable positions to ProEra makes sense. But the VR structure of ProEra could easily be applied to Madden's Face Of The Franchise Mode, complete with locker room role-playing scenes and press conferences.

A VR Coach Mode could be a fun way to play Franchise.

I suspect that StatusPro probably cannot legally create their own Franchise Mode for future versions of ProEra, as a Franchise Mode would likely infringe on EA's "simulation" exclusivity. However, I could see a VR Coach Mode being a viable way of playing a full Franchise Mode, whether that be in ProEra, or in Madden, or in some other football game. Pacing the sideline as the coach, calling plays off your clipboard, watching the result unfold on the field, then heading into the locker room for halftime to make gameplanning adjustments could be a really fun and immersive way to play Franchise as a coach. Even though I usually play my Madden Franchise games on the field, I would definitely give such a VR Coach Mode a try, if it were to ever show up in Madden, or in future iterations of ProEra. Maybe companies like Modus, Axis Games, and 2K could also take inspiration from ProEra.

With a new VR contender entering the field, the football video game marketplace is getting awfully crowded all of a sudden, and we could be looking at an explosion of new ideas and innovation being introduced to the long stagnant football video gaming sub-genre.

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The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

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Deep Space Nine was ahead of its timeDeep Space Nine was ahead of its time09/13/2023 In the age of streaming and binge-watching here in the year 2023, long-form serialized television is now ubiquitous. Every network and streaming service has wanted its own blockbuster TV shows. Whether it's AMC's The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, HBO's Game of Thrones, Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica, Netflix's House of Cards...

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